Smart medicine: Wireless system powers tiny devices inside the body

Smart medicine: Wireless system powers tiny devices inside the body

US researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working with scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, have developed wireless technology that can power and communicate with medical devices implanted in the body.

The technology has the potential to deliver drugs, monitor medical conditions, and treat diseases.

The implanted devices are powered by radio waves. By negating the need for batteries, the implants can be as small as a grain of rice (with the potential to become smaller still) and can safely reside in human tissue without needing to be replaced.

During initial tests in animals, the researchers found that the devices could be successfully powered by radio waves at a depth of 10 centimetres, from one meter away.

Fadel Adib, an assistant professor at MIT’s Media Lab and a senior author of the paper, revealed his excitement about the technology’s potential in a MIT News report:

Even though these tiny implantable devices have no batteries, we can now communicate with them from a distance outside the body.

In Vivo Networking for healthcare IoT

The researchers call the new system In Vivo Networking (IVN). An array of antennas emit radio waves at slightly different frequencies. As they travel, the waves overlap and combine, and, where the high points of the waves meet, provide enough energy to power an implanted device.

“We chose frequencies that are slightly different from each other, and in doing so, we know that at some point in time these are going to reach their highs at the same time. When they reach those highs at the same time, they are able to overcome the energy threshold needed to power the device,” Adib says.

This burst of power then triggers the device to send information back to the antennas. The system also means that the antennas can deliver power over a large area and to multiple devices.

Innovation in treatment and diagnostics

The research opens up entirely new types of medical applications. Possible uses include placement inside smart pills, which could perform controlled drug delivery to treat diseases such as malaria or Alzheimer’s.

The devices could also monitor organs and tissue and relay information, such as pressure data, glucose monitoring, and gut microbiome and stomach conditions, back to connected devices.

By integrating the devices with neurostimulators, and implanting them in the brain, they could also perform deep brain stimulation to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy, or control neural circuits through optogenetic manipulation.

Internet of Business says

Optogenetics, the use of light to control neurons in living tissue, has seen growing research in recent years, with huge potential in the treatment of disease and mental health issues.

In 2010, optogenetics was chosen as the Method of the Year across all fields of science and engineering by the interdisciplinary research journal Nature Methods. The technique was also promoted in an article on ‘Breakthroughs of the Decade’ in the academic research journal Science.

The field could provide insights into the neural codes relevant to autism, schizophrenia, drug abuse, anxiety, or depression. Meanwhile, research into the use of optogenetics in the heart, for cardiac resynchronisation therapy, has also borne fruit, offering a future alternative to electrode-based CRT.

Considered alongside the technology’s monitoring and drug-delivery potential, senior paper author Fadel Adib was not overstating the research’s implications.

Smart medicine will undoubtedly see huge growth over the next few years, thanks to the rich data, constant monitoring, and fine control capabilities that it offers. Researchers are now working on making power delivery more efficient and capable over greater distances.

Successful development could also see the technology applied in other fields, such as supply chain and retail, improving RFID applications.

This latest announcement comes on back of another recent breakthrough by an MIT research team: an ingestible sensor for disease diagnostics.

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